I had never eaten Porcini mushrooms before 1995, but we were on vacation in Italy around this time and each restaurant in Italy made several dishes with tasty mushrooms. I loved Porcini mushroom so much that I bought dry one to last me for several months.
Food historians tell us that mushrooms were used by ancient Greeks and Romans. The Roman emperor Claudius was actually murdered by his wife, Agrippina, who slipped in a couple of poison mushrooms into a dish of his favorite edible mushrooms.
The Roman were able to cultivate several kinds of mushrooms but cultivation on a large scale really began in the 17th century when a French botanist discovered how to grow them in compost all year around. The white mushrooms that are found in American supermarkets are descendants of what the French call Champignons de Paris. Paris has the best circumstances for mushroom cultivation-huge quarry caves around the city, which, when the quarries were played out, were given to gardeners who created a substantial mushroom industry. In the 18th century Chinese and Japanese botanists cultivated the famous Shiitake and straw mushrooms, using French techniques. It was American botanists who learned on their own, despite French refusal to give up their secrets, how to cultivate what we now call “button” mushrooms, which is what we buy in stores today.
Modern Italians generally will not touch cultivated mushrooms, and will only eat mushrooms from the wild. They will eat dried or preserved if they are wild, rather than eat cultivated mushrooms. And for good reason. Porcinis have an incredibly delightful taste, and are featured in every possible form when they are in season.
There are dozens of varieties of edible mushrooms, including Portobello and Shiitake, which some people use in place of meat because of their meaty texture.
Some hists: Never store mushrooms in a plastic bag as they will sweat and turn mushy. Keep them in a paper bag and store for no more than two days in the vegetable compartment of your refrigerator. On should never wash mushrooms with water, but instead, clean them with a soft brush or wipe them clean with a paper towel.
White Mushrooms Salad
1 pound white mushrooms, sliced
5 scallions, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup lemon juice
6 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
-Toss all ingredients together and serve fresh. If you have any leftover just add them to eggs and have a wonderful omelet.